NEW ORLEANS — Two years of work wiped out in a single second.
If you know nothing else about this Florida State football team, just remember that detail.
For it tells you where this program has been and, perhaps, where it is going. On a Sunday night when they were the only game in town, the Seminoles saw two years of sweat, sacrifice and determination potentially slip through their fingertips on a play that began with one second left on the clock.
They saw LSU drive 99 yards in the final minute and seemingly send the game to overtime with a touchdown on the final play of regulation.
They saw their past flash before their eyes and their future disappear from their dreams.
Tell me, how do you recover from that?
With heart, I suppose. With confidence. With desire. With camaraderie. And, who knows, maybe with a little luck and prayer.
Following one of the most dramatic collapses you will ever see on a football field, Florida State rediscovered itself Sunday night when a handful of players burst through the LSU line and redshirt freshman Shyheim Brown partially blocked an extra point attempt that fluttered just below the cross bar.
Florida State 24, LSU 23.
“Obviously, there at the end, you had some things happen that you just can’t have,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “But the one thing that happened on the last play is what we actually needed.
“It’s determination. It’s heart. It’s a willingness that, even after a disappointing moment, our guys responded.”
Just like that, the calendar no longer mattered. Four consecutive years of losing records no longer defined this team. Two years of work and upheaval since Norvell was hired had finally paid off.
Nobody will ride off into the sunset after a game in September, and engravers aren’t put on retainer when a team starts a season 2-0, but this could be a moment that we’ll point to in days to come.
Every journey begins somewhere, and the Seminoles have been on their own path toward redemption for some time now. You just couldn’t see it until you watched a sideline erupt in celebration and a team filled with middling recruits race across the Superdome turf with nothing but joy in their hearts.
“Our guys, they don’t doubt. They continue to play,” Norvell said. “That’s going to help them here at Florida State, it’s going to help this team as we continue to grow, it’s going to help our program in the future. It’s going to help them for the rest of their lives. And that’s what brings joy.
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“I’m having so much fun coaching this team because they embrace that. They embrace the work, they embrace the challenges. To say this is a starting point? No, we’ve been on a journey.”
You could see that from the very beginning of the game.
The Seminoles dominated the Tigers most of the night, although it must be said that LSU is going through a rebuilding process of its own.
Florida State does not yet have the talent to compete for a college playoff spot, and maybe not even the Atlantic Coast Conference title, but they compensated by playing a smart, diverse, entertaining brand of football.
There was a definite sense of style to the way FSU played on offense. A bit of panache, if you will.
While LSU’s offense was dependent on quarterback Jayden Daniels freelancing out of the pocket, the Seminoles attacked with a mixture of formations and a penchant for mis-direction plays.
Quarterback Jordan Travis may not be quite as athletic as Daniels, but he was far more polished and poised. The difference in the game was the way Travis kept FSU drives alive with clutch passes. On third-down plays, he was 8-of-11 for 92 yards.
FSU’s offensive line did not blow the Tigers off the ball, there were enough running plays to keep the pass rushers honest. And while the Seminoles might have gone overboard on low-percentage sideline passes and bombs, Travis was highly efficient on mid-range passes over the middle.
Yet, as methodical and efficient as the Seminoles were on offense, they squandered enough scoring chances to keep the Tigers in the game.
There was a missed field goal in the first quarter, there was a fourth-down gamble from the 8 that went awry in the second quarter, and there was another drive that stalled inside the 10 and was turned into a field goal in the third quarter.
FSU had basically doubled LSU in total yardage, but found itself clinging to a 17-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Seminoles could have put the game away with a touchdown in the final two minutes, but fumbled at the LSU 1-yard line, leading to the dramatic final moments.
“It speaks to what this program is about. Unconquered. That’s it,” Norvell said. “Anybody (else) would have just taken a (perfunctory) step on the final play. ‘Alright, here we go. We’re going to overtime.’ But … our guys believed. You watch them throughout the course of the night and they just kept pounding their hearts. That’s what’s going to win games.
“That’s what just won that game. It was heart. It was determination. It was the willingness to give a little bit more in a time of need.”
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